The Araby Essay

1535 words - 7 pages

James Joyce's Araby is a short story from one of his best known works, Dubliners, and is classified as "fictionalized autobiography" because of its clear influences from Joyce's own early life in Ireland. The story follows an unnamed Irish boy, presumably based on Joyce himself, who is infatuated with the sister of his friend, Mangan. As a way to prove his love to her, the boy dedicates himself to going to a bazaar called the “Araby” to find her a gift. Told from the somewhat limited perspective this young, innocent boy, this figurative journey leads up to an important but disillusioning coming-of-age moment. Through the boy's imaginative figuration of himself as a knight on a quest on behalf of his courtly lady, Joyce not only shows the boy's immense idealization of his situation, but in the process also shows how unrealistic and absurd this romanticism is, all with the ultimate purpose of showing the boy's final realizations at the end of his journey as he finally recognizes the dullness and materialism of the "brown" life under the constructs of the false images that hide them.
By having the narrator think of himself as a glorious knight who goes on a journey to win the heart of the courtly lady that is high above him, Joyce demonstrates the special idealism of the main character; an idealism that seems to separate the boy from the dull, “brown” society that surrounds him. For the use of his figuration, Joyce (or perhaps the boy himself) seem to rely on the classic courtly love scenario of medieval poetry in which the narrator, as a knight, falls in love with a pure and beautiful yet unattainable lady of the court. It is then through the process of the knight's struggle of love that the lowly knight is ultimately also raised up to a level of purity as he ascends to heaven. Following this pattern, not only is Mangan’s sister, as the courtly lady, described as being illuminated by light, but she is also physically a few steps above everyone else in the two instances in front of her house. Her purity is further emphasized by her strong devotion to her religion, which is shown by her commitment to her retreat despite missing the highly anticipated Araby. Again adhering to the model, the boy is depicted in a drastically opposite way. The relatively low initial position of the Araby's narrator prior to the introduction of Mangan’s sister is made clear with the description of his childish play in the “dark muddy lanes” and with the mention of horse stables, signifying a position outside of decency. Like the raising up of the knight though, as the boy contemplates upon the source of his “confused adoration,” he seems to transcend the common, “brown”-ness around him. This is shown, for example, with his visit to the base and materialistic marketplace. Though it is filled with “drunken men,” and the “shrill litanies of shop boys,” the boy floats through, bearing his “chalice" like a heroic knight against a “throng of foes.” A similar raising up occurs...

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